Broadband grants to benefit Benton, Carroll counties

One in six rural Tennesseans lack access to broadband internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 2020 Broadband Deployment Report. Since 2018, the Tennessee Economic and Community Development Department (TNECD) has awarded nearly $120 million in broadband grants through state and federal funding to serve more than 140,000 Tennessee households.

In a recent announcement by the state, nearly $447 million was awarded to help expand broadband internet in 58 counties. Thirteen of those counties worked with The Ayers Foundation and Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI) to secure those funding opportunities.

Through the partnership, Benton and Carroll counties are included in the grant awards.

The Tennessee Rural Broadband Project, led by The Ayers Foundation and RISI, provided broadband technical assistance to rural leaders across at-risk and distressed counties experiencing significant gaps in broadband availability.

The initiative, which began by engaging with county mayors, and expanded to involve a diversity of stakeholders, including internet service providers, municipal utilities, electric cooperatives, and rural telephone companies, helped county leaders apply for broadband infrastructure funding through the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund – American Rescue Plan (TEBF-ARP) grant program. The result, more than $80 million in funding was awarded to those counties through the Tennessee Rural Broadband Project. The TEBF-ARP utilizes a portion of the state’s federal American Rescue Plan funds to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and work toward a strong recovery. Tennessee’s Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG) dedicated $500 million to broadband funding from this program, with more than $446 million going to infrastructure and nearly $50 million going to broadband adoption and digital literacy efforts.

The TEBF-ARP program represents a $447 million investment in broadband expansion across the state of Tennessee, announced by Gov. Bill Lee and includes:

  • Charter Communications, Inc.: $20,429,809.00 – serving parts of Benton, Carroll, Loudon, McMinn, McNairy and Meigs counties;
  • Lexington Electric System: $27,490,416.30 – serving parts of Henderson, Decatur, Benton, Carroll and Hardin counties and
  • Peoples Telephone Company: $5,385,719.50 – serving parts of Henry, Benton and Carroll counties.

“The Ayers Foundation has always been committed to improving the lives of rural Tennesseans across the state,” said Janet Ayers, President of The Ayers Foundation. “A reliable and fast internet connection is no longer a luxury, but a true necessity of 21st-century life. Work, education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship all rely on fast internet.” 

“Bringing the gold standard of broadband connectivity to these rural areas is crucial to rural job creation and prosperity — but it is not the end of our work. Rural places with good internet are better able to provide opportunities for the young Tennesseans who grew up there to stay and thrive in the rural places they love and call home,” said Ayers. “We look forward to continuing our support of these rural communities as they leverage these great broadband wins to create even more educational and economic opportunities for our state.”

The more than $80.4 million in successful grant awards will leverage, at minimum, an additional $34 million in private funding to reach a total of more than $114 million for broadband expansion in the counties supported by the work of The Ayers Foundation and RISI. Five internet service providers will be involved in deploying this new broadband infrastructure. 

“RISI is grateful for the opportunity to support broadband planning across rural Tennessee,” said Alex Kelley, RISI’s head of broadband consulting. “This work does not happen without committed and engaged public-sector and community leaders who truly care about improving the quality of life, business, and educational opportunities in their communities. The results of this program are a testament to the great dedication and effort put into this work by rural Tennesseans across the state.” 

“People are moving to Tennessee from across the nation in record numbers, and we have an obligation to prepare our state for continued growth,” said Governor Bill Lee. “Our strategic investments in broadband infrastructure will ensure our rural communities are connected and have every opportunity to thrive, and I thank the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for managing dollars effectively to serve Tennesseans.” 

“To achieve economic growth and prosperity, it’s imperative that Tennessee’s communities have the proper infrastructure in place,” Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) Commissioner Stuart McWhorter said. “Thanks to the $447 million awarded in funding, broadband access will be available to 36 grantees with 75 projects across 58 Tennessee counties, and we look forward to seeing how these grants spur further success among each community.”

To learn more about Tennessee’s broadband initiatives, visit 

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